Stacked approval process favours developers
Joan Little Freelance columnist Joan Little is a former Burlington alderperson and Halton councillor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there is one constant issue readers contact me about, it’s changes to Burlington. How big a change was highlighted in a recent planning report. Premier Doug Ford’s amended deadlines for municipalities to respond to development applications are virtually impossible to meet. And when the deadlines are reached, developers appeal to the new provincial OLT — Ontario Land Tribunal (formerly LPAT, before that, OMB). These tribunals have historically been very developer-friendly, so why not appeal? Ontario municipalities pay huge costs for lawyers and other experts to defend local planning. These unnecessary local costs should be top priority in June’s provincial election. Ontario is the only province with a tribunal free to ignore a council decision, and superimpose one appointed bureaucrat’s own. The clock begins ticking the day a “complete” application is filed, and doesn’t stop if an applicant is slow responding to a request for further information. The city must circulate it to several departments and agencies, who respond on issues under their jurisdiction (school boards, conservation authorities, perhaps railways, and other affected agencies). Some are slow to respond, but complicated issues require more time. And public opinion must be solicited. A local official plan (OP) takes much planning and public consultation, and citizens rely on its content. Developers can ask to change it (and/or zoning) for any outlandish proposal, and cities must respond. For example, the Adi zoning allowed eight storeys, max, and the OMB granted 26. Many developers see the rules as elastic, changeable at will. Provincial population targets are “minimums,” which developers’ consultants hasten to stress. But no maximums exist. With this backdrop, Burlington is revamping staffing levels to meet the unrealistic deadlines — now 90 to 120 days. Cities can’t profit from application fees — only recoup costs. The approved report, headed to council shortly, adds several new planning, building, and engineering staff. There are 47 open residential files, totalling 19,100 units — about 10 per cent of the current city population — plus 15 for employment uses (240,000 square metres). Because Burlington has no more vacant land, projects are complex, requiring demolitions, and working in tight quarters. With excess units and height, construction management is complex, involving extra traffic obstacles and neighbourhood disruptions. It’s frustrating watching presentations, and the “spin” on the OP exhorting excessive height and density, with deficient parking and setbacks from streets and neighbours — and the tribunal allowing them. Why bother having municipalities if the province is going to run roughshod over their planning? And Ford is threatening Hamilton too — that not expanding its urban boundary on to agricultural land may breach provincial policy. With Burlington’s agreement, Conservation Halton is assuming jurisdiction of the lower Rambo Creek. A recent study showed the south area could be flood prone now because of upstream development, requiring a followup study. Will current applications be affected? But Ford emasculated conservation authorities, and can now override their decisions. Is nothing sacred? At the same meeting, 14 well informed Lower Tyandaga delegations appeared. Their lone plaza is under threat, which offers neighbourhood convenience, and most importantly, a daycare centre. Fieldgate (developer of high end retirement homes) wants a four-storey, 123-unit one, replacing the plaza, but including some (less) commercial. Tyandaga Mews residents, immediately south, would have a driveway to an underground parking garage immediately above them, with the mechanical noise of an automatic garage door at all hours. To me, it’s an unattractive building — squat, boxy and overbearing in that area. Delegates noted that Kerns Road climbs the escarpment from North Service Road, making the building seem even taller. One said that the tallest building in all Tyandaga is four storeys — at Brant Street. Some opined that the developer took a “like it or lump it” approach with neighbours. The committee directed staff to continue the process, and consider these concerns. Ask yourself who runs cities today. Councils work to empower citizens. For what, when one appointed bureaucrat can impose his preference over an elected council’s decision? That has to be THE ballot question in June.